Court Orders EPA to Move Forward on Power Plant Water Pollution Rule


Last week, EPA proposed multi-option rule; this week, federal court denies industry challenge to scuttle that rulemaking


Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2098


Jen Duggan, Environmental Integrity Project, (802) 225-6774


Eitan Bencuya, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3047


Michael Senatore, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3221

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circut issued a decision today that ensures the Environmental Protection Agency will have to meet a court-ordered deadline to issue regulations that finally clean up power plant water pollution. Last Friday, the EPA proposed a series of regulatory options for this pollution, and today’s decision rejects utility industry efforts to derail the schedule for finalizing a rule in May, 2014.

Lake Michigan dunes, with power plant in background. Power plant water discharges are filled with harmful pollution such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium  (NPS)

In 2010, environmental groups sued the EPA for failing to regulate power plant water pollution. As part of that lawsuit, the groups agreed with EPA in a consent decree to a timeline for establishing new federal regulations for these water discharges. The Utility Water Act Group (UWAG), a trade association of energy companies, intervened and challenged that consent decree. Today’s decision denied UWAG’s challenge, rejecting claims that the ongoing rulemaking process injures the industry.

Power plant water discharges are filled with harmful pollution such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium—toxics that can cause neurological and developmental damage, cause harm in utero, damage internal organs and cause cancer. According to the EPA, their regulation will reduce pollution by up to 2.62 billion pounds and reduce water use by up to 103 billion gallons each year.

“Last week, the EPA took long overdue action to propose a series of regulatory options to clean up water pollution from power plants,” said Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen. “Power companies have been successful in evading needed regulation for more than three decades, but we are heartened that they have not succeeded in this latest effort to derail critically important clean water standards for arsenic, mercury, and other toxic pollutants. The court has put to rest any question whether a final rule will be required next year.”

“The court’s decision is a victory for communities that live downstream of coal-fired power plants, and the health of our rivers, lakes, and streams,” said Jennifer Duggan, managing attorney at Environmental Integrity Project. “National standards to curb discharges of arsenic, selenium, mercury, and other toxic pollution from power plants should have been put in place thirty years ago. Despite EPA’s commitment to getting these long overdue rules back on track, industry’s lawsuit called for even more delay.”

“This ruling removes an obstacle that could have further delayed EPA’s long overdue obligation to promulgate rules addressing water pollution from coal fired power plants. Once finalized these regulations should help protect aquatic wildlife from the harmful effects of coal-fired power plants,” said Michael Senatore, Vice President of Conservation Law at Defenders of Wildlife.

"The court made clear that the coal industry cannot derail the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to clean up the dumping of toxic metals into our water." said Craig Segall, staff attorney at the Sierra Club. "More than half of all toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal plants, and the existing laws do not cover the worst of these pollutants. After thirty years of delay, the EPA will be able to stay on track and finally update these vital water pollution standards, saving American lives and preventing our children from getting sick."

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